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Column: Unceremoniously, SoFi fans were giving a charge to Cowboys more than home team

Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard acknowledges the crowd after scoring a touchdown.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

It was quickly obvious that this new home might be inhabited by an old problem.

The first sign appeared Sunday in the first quarter of the Chargers’ first regular-season appearance in front of fans at SoFi Stadium in game against the Dallas Cowboys.

A receiver made a diving catch and the wonderfully bright palace quickly darkened with a deafening recitation of the throatiest of chants.

“Cooooooop”

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Um, the Chargers don’t have a receiver named Cooper.

The next sign appeared in the second quarter, when another traditional chant filled the buzzing building with energy and inspiration.

“Dee-fense.”

Sigh, the Chargers were on offense.

The Chargers didn’t punt against the Dallas Cowboys, but their problems with penalties proved costly in a 20-17 loss decided on a game-ending field goal.

By the end of the afternoon, the home team didn’t feel much more at home, losing 20-17 to the Cowboys on a last-second field goal that caused three-quarters of the 70,240 fans to bounce gleefully in their seats while the rest of them lowered their heads and perhaps quietly pondered this city’s eternal football question.

Will Los Angeles ever accept the Chargers?

After one game in front of fans in their new home, the answer is a clear, not yet.

While the Chargers crowd was not as invisible as it was during their three years at what is now Dignity Health Sports Park, there were still far more visitors with a much louder collective passion.

While the Chargers didn’t wilt in the face of the hostility as in past seasons, the Cowboys clearly fed off the noise and presented a much more physical and focused attack.

Make no mistake, it’s not nearly as nasty as it was when the Chargers arrived here five years ago, and almost everything is now in place for them to become the sort of fixture in the city’s sports landscape that could even rival the Rams.

They have the great young quarterback in Justin Herbert. They have the sparkling new stadium with the midfield bolt. They only have two players remaining from their years in San Diego.

SoFi was brimming Sunday with the joyful noise of a Chargers mini-marching band, howling fans in Chargers wrestling masks, smiles and waves from Jerry West and Jamie Foxx and Los Angeles signs everywhere. With their new digs and new unis and new roster, the Chargers look like a Los Angeles team, and feel like a Los Angeles team, and are seemingly missing just one thing.

They need to start consistently winning to make Los Angeles care.

Given a perfect opportunity to take an important step in that direction Sunday, the Chargers remained consistent with their brief lousy local history, and blew it.

Here are some of photos of Sunday’s showdown between the Chargers and Dallas Cowboys from photographers Gina Ferazzi and Allen J. Schaben.

In their final two possessions, they had two touchdowns called back because of careless penalties. On one of those possessions, Herbert also threw a pick in the end zone.

Two possessions with the score tied, two apparent go-ahead touchdowns, yet just one resulting field goal, and is it any wonder the frustrated defense was vulnerable to a grinding 11-play Cowboys drive that ended in Greg Zuerlein’s 56-yard field goal to win it?

Is it any surprise that, at the final kick, what long sounded like a Cowboys home game actually looked like a Cowboys home game, with the Cowboys rushing the field and their fans owning the stands?

The Cowboys celebrate and hoist  Greg Zuerlein after the kicker's 56-yard field goal won the game.
The Cowboys celebrate and hoist Greg Zuerlein after the kicker’s 56-yard field goal won the game. That on-field celebration resembled a Dallas home game.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In the end, despite the best of Chargers’ intentions, it was still America’s Team against Not-Exactly-Sure-Who’s team.

The Chargers, now 1-1, will have 15 more chances this season to convince Los Angeles otherwise.

Afterward, new coach Brandon Staley took a different approach from previous Chargers. Instead of bemoaning the unfairness of playing a road game at home, he celebrated the Chargers fans who did show up. Judging from all the Herbert jerseys spotted in the stands, many of those fans are new, an optimistic indication of the Chargers’ potential community foothold.

“My focus was on the powder blue, I felt like our crowd came out and I think they are going to continue to come out because we have a good team, I think the people in Los Angeles are going to see that we have a good team,” said Staley.

About the Cowboys fans, he said, “That team travels well traditionally but I didn’t hear them very much, I heard our fans, and I was proud of the energy in that stadium for us, I felt like we appreciated it, I felt like it allowed us to play better and hopefully it will be a big edge for us moving forward having a home crowd like that.”

Lots of teams travel well, and lots of them bring lots of fans to Los Angeles, just ask the Rams, who played in front of a sizable contingent of Chicago Bears fans last week in their SoFi opener.

But no team in the NFL has consistently played in front of an overwhelming majority of visiting fans like the Chargers, and that truth still holds, and will remain so until the Chargers themselves do something about it.

Like, not commit a dozen penalties for 99 yards. Like, not allow 198 yards rushing on six yards a carry. Like, not mess up a brilliant chance to beat the celebrated Cowboys and shut up their fans and declare themselves home.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

The Chargers need to embrace their stadium signage and bolt up and sell this town on a winning product while they still have a chance.

“The anger is up there,” receiver Mike Williams said. “Obviously we want to win these close games …we’ve got to find a way to pull it off.”

Anger is good. Urgency is better. Their Inglewood doors are open. Their future is right in front of them. Their moment must be now.

The Chargers have a new home, but its unsettling sounds already are getting old.


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